treme, pronounced treh-MAY, or TREH-may, or tree-mee, or...
Have you seen Treme? It's co-created by David Simon, the man behind The Wire, and quite a few of the actors from there appear in Treme as well. There's a fourth season due later this year.
If you've not yet seen it, you're in for a treat - particularly if you love food and music. Because that's what this love letter to the city of New Orleans and its second-line culture is mainly about - many of the characters are musicians (with several legends, like Dr John, playing themselves), chefs or restaurant owners. Although the storylines don't have quite the same dramatic heft as those in The Wire, I love it.
You can read about the second line parades here. Better yet, have a gander at one in action:
Watching a few episodes again recently made me kick myself that I never went when I had the wherewithal so to do. But I could go and get the fixin's to make myself a po-boy.
Along with gumbo, ettouffee, muffulettas, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and beignets, the po-boy - a messy, overstuffed giant sandwich - is one of the classics of New Orleans' cuisine. Apart from shrimps and oysters there are innumerable different fillings offered, including catfish, soft-shell crabs, roast beef, chicken and sausage, okra and remoulade, turkey and gravy, and meatballs. The classic toppings to complete the sandwich are mayo, shredded lettuce and pickles, with hot sauce on the side.
I'm breezily telling you all this as though I'm some authority, whereas, not only have I never been, I've also never eaten a po-boy before. Neither of these facts, seemingly, were of sufficient import to deflate my insanely confident belief that I could make a version worthy of sharing with the world. This medication lark really is a tricky thing to get right.
a brief history of the po-boy
The birthplace of the po-boy sandwich was, by all accounts, the Martin Brothers' Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market (opened in 1922). Before opening the restaurant, the brothers had worked as streetcar operators. In July of 1929, what turned out to be a bitter, divisive and violent strike was begun by the city's motormen and conductors.
The two brothers, Clovis and Benjamin, in support, offered the strikers the chance of a free meal while the strike lasted - a sandwich filled with gravy and beef trimmings, or gravy and potatoes.
Bennie Martin said, "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'
Because "the traditional French bread's narrowed ends meant that much of each loaf was wasted", the Martins began working with a baker, John Gendusa, to develop a 40-inch loaf of bread that had a uniform, rectangular shape from end to end. They'd served sandwiches with the same fillings before the strike, but the size of these "poor boys" was something new.
It's a lovely story. It also appears to be true.
a visit to crabby jack's
So that's what a real dirty food place is like. And, great God almighty, look at the size of those sandwiches.
Now, 'dirty food' is the big thing at the moment. It seems there's a new high-end burger, fried chicken or BBQ joint opening up every other day. Some are brilliant (Pitt Cue), others less so. That they serve working class food mainly to an achingly hip gastroscenti, though ironic, isn't an issue for me - it's just a sad but inevitable result of our ridiculously class-ridden food culture. No, the big problem, as with any imported food trend, is that you can end up with the vision of hell that is Jamie Oliver's Diner - do read Chris Pople's withering review.
Of course Britain has long had it's very own indigenous, and distinctly unhip, dirty food scene: greasy spoons. Although, as it turns out (according to the O.E.D.), even that phrase is imported from America:
Po-boy aficionados emphasise that using the right bread is crucial (as with any sandwich really); a French baguette, they'll insist, is not the answer here. The characteristics of New Orleans po-boy bread are, as I understand it, a soft and airy interior with a slightly crisp crust.
There isn't, to my knowledge, any bakery making po-boy bread hereabouts. But there is, just down the road at the Elephant & Castle, a Longdan Express which sells Vietnamese bánh mì, with a crumb as delicate and insubstantial as an angel's fart. Probably half the width and far less robust, I'd say, than the po boy loaf. I doubt it could handle a big sloppy mess of that roast beef served at Crabby Jack's, for example. But it'll more than do for me.
They sell two sizes of bánh mì, the larger being 10" in length, as well as a loaf in the shape of a hedgehog. No, I don't know either. The lot in the photo below cost me £2.70.
I think if I hadn't been able to buy bánh mì I'd have gone for what the supermarkets call a french stick, rather than a baguette. If any one has had the good fortune to have eaten real po-boy bread (i.e. from the Leidenheimer or Gendusa bakeries) and bánh mì, I'd be interested to know how, if at all, they compare.
This may well be considered, across the pond, a goddamn pinko, limey, pansy-ass travesty. All I can tell you is it was really good. This is what God has for tea instead of a fish finger butty.
I couldn't resist, while at Longdan Express, buying a 150g packet of tempura flour (ingredients: wheat flour, rice flour, starch, baking powder and salt) for 50p. You may want to use your own batter mixture - just keep it light.
I fancied quick-pickling the half a cucumber that I had in the fridge, which I did the day before. Otherwise, I'd have used dill pickles from a jar.
Lettuce -wise, keep it simple: iceberg. Failing that cos or romaine (which is what I had). Definitely not rocket.
serves one rather hungry person
16 raw, peeled and de-veined prawns
salt + black pepper
flour for initial coating
vegetable oil for frying
for the dill pickle:
half a cucumber
90ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp of caster sugar
1 tsp of fine salt
small clove of garlic, peeled, whole
a good pinch of mustard seeds
1 tbsp of chopped, fresh dill
for the batter:
50g tempura flour
½ tsp of salt
½ tsp of ground cumin
½ tsp of ground coriander
½ tsp of smoked paprika
approx. 80-100ml cold sparkling water
hot pepper jelly or dijon mustard (optional)
a handful of shredded, crisp lettuce
1 x 10" bánh mì, or equivalent length of french stick
a bottle of hot sauce
If you're making the dill pickle: scrape the tines of a fork length ways all around the cucumber to form a pattern then slice it, not too thinly. Heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, bayleaf and mustard seeds in a pan to boiling, then remove from the heat and add the cucumber slices. Stir, then allow to cool. Add the dill, stir again and transfer to a kilner jar or similar. Bung in the fridge until required.
Make the batter just before you're going to fry the prawns: mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and then whisk in 80ml of the water, adding more as required up to 100ml - you want a thin batter about the consistency of single cream. Don't worry about a few lumps.
When you're ready to make the po-boy: pour vegetable oil into a pan to a depth of no more than a third of the height of the pan. Heat to 175C. Season the prawns and coat lightly in flour, then add to the bowl of batter and coat thoroughly. Drop the prawns into the pan one at a time and fry for about 4 or 5 minutes until crisp and golden. Depending on the size of the pan and the amount of oil you've got, you can do this in several batches. Remove the prawns from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Prepare your po-boy: Split the bánh mì in half length ways. Spread mayonnaise generously on one half, and spread (if you fancy it) either hot pepper jelly or mustard on the other. Strew the lettuce onto one half, pile on the prawns, and top with pickled cucumber slices.
Cut the sandwich in half, arrange on a plate, and serve with a bottle of hot sauce on the side.
Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Cajun expression which translates as 'Get in, my son!')
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014